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Reports shed light on how Koch brothers' money flows to campaigns

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A slew of reports released Wednesday reveal that a network of conservative think tanks, funded by multinational corporations and industrialists — most notably Charles and David Koch — comprise a vast dark-money campaign funding mechanism that funnels cash to conservative candidates, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in last year’s recall election.

On Wednesday, the liberal Center for Media and Democracy along with Progress Now released an analysis of IRS tax documents in the form of a dozen reports and other information posted on CMD's website. The reports reveal the structure of the State Policy Network, a group of 63 state-based organizations that CMD calls an "$83 million dollar right-wing empire" of dark money — undisclosed campaign cash — from some of the world's top corporate powerhouses and conservative special interest groups.

"The identities of the donors we have discovered reveal that SPN is largely funded by global corporations such as Reynolds American, Altria, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft Foods, Express Scripts, Comcast, Time Warner, and the Koch- and Tea Party-connected DCI Group lobbying and PR firm that stand to benefit from SPN’s destructive agenda, as well as out-of-state special interests like the billionaire Koch brothers, the Waltons, the Bradley Foundation, the Roe Foundation, and the Coors family that are underwriting an extreme legislative agenda that undermines the traditional rights of modern Americans," CMD writes in this report.

The Milwaukee-based alternative weekly Shepherd Express, in a story posted Wednesday, applied the findings to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which spent heavily on Walker and other conservative recall candidates.

The paper found that Club for Growth received: $225,000 from the Koch brothers-connected Arizona front group Center to Protect Patient Rights, which the state of California fined last month for failing to disclose campaign contributions; $400,000 from the Wellspring Committee, which received funds from the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity, the Faith and Freedom Coalition and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce; $60,000 from the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the Georgia-based organization run by Ralph Reed and which has ties to the Koch brothers; $50,000 from the State Government Leadership Foundation, a Virginia-based group launched by the likes of Exxon, Pfizer and Time Warner; $988,000 from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Issue Mobilization Council; and $125,000 from the Wisconsin Bankers Association.

The national reports show that Koch brothers-connected sources like the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund figure heavily in SPN think tank funding.

“It really is another part of the Kochtopus,” CMD Executive Director Lisa Graves told Politico.

Politico calls SPN's membership a "who’s who of conservative organizations, including ALEC, David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Foundation, FreedomWorks, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation."

State Policy Network President Tracie Sharp discounted CMD's assetion that the group severs the over-arching agenda of its corporate donors, telling Politico that it member think tanks are “fiercely independent.”

"There is no governing organization dictating what free market think tanks research or how they educate the public about good public policy,” she said

But she also said: “Every think tank, however, rallies around a common belief: the power of free markets and free people to create a healthy, prosperous society.”

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.

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